It’s Spring: What You Need to Know About Ticks

Merely Me Health Guide
  • We are continuing our series this week on things that make you itch. Last week we discussed the wide variety of triggers for itchy skin with my introductory post, “What Is Causing My Itch?” One possible cause for itchy skin is tick bites.


    Spring time, with its warm damp weather, is the perfect breeding season for ticks. When the temperature starts to rise, ticks come out to obtain a blood meal which allows them to mate and reproduce. And guess who is on the menu? That’s right, you! Ticks are prevalent around the world. In fact, there are an estimated 850 species of ticks known worldwide. Yet while some ticks are merely annoying, several species found in the U.S. are carriers of some serious diseases. In this post we will discuss how to identify the more dangerous types of ticks and also how to look for signs of tick transmitted diseases.

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    What types of ticks are carriers of disease?


    There are three types of ticks that you have to especially watch out for and they include:


    1. The blacklegged or deer tick: Deer ticks are very small (about one-eighth-inch as adults) and dark brown to bright red with black legs. This is the tick which transmits Lyme Disease. Your risk for contracting Lyme Disease really does depend upon where you live in the United States. The American Lyme Disease Foundation reports that: “…less than 5% of adult ticks south of Maryland are infected with B. burgdorferi, while up to 50% are infected in hyperendemic areas (areas with a high tick infection rate) of the northeast. The tick infection rate in Pacific coastal states is between 2% and 4%.”


    Symptoms of Lyme Disease include a skin rash, often resembling a bulls-eye, fever, headache, muscle pain, stiff neck and swelling of knees and other large joints. Here are images of what the bulls eye rash of Lyme Disease can look like courtesy of The Lyme Disease Network.

    Here is an image of Western black legged ticks on a finger from the California Department of Health Services. You can see how tiny these ticks are. Some people may not realize they have been bitten because they are so small. Here is another image of the male and female deer tick.

    For more information about Lyme Disease you can visit Health Central’s information page on Lyme Disease as well as The American Lyme Disease Foundation.

    2. Lone Star Ticks: Lone Star ticks can be found throughout the southeastern and south-central states and are named for the prominent white dot on the back of the female. Lone Star ticks are known to be aggressive biters and, if you get bitten by one of these ticks, you will probably know it because the bite can cause pain and itching for several days.


    Lone Star ticks are not known to carry Lyme Disease but do transmit something called southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). The STARI rash may look similar to the rash of Lyme Disease and may be accompanied by fatigue, fever, headache, muscle and joint pains. This rash is not associated with any neurological symptoms. STARI is usually treated with oral antibiotics.


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    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide detailed information about STARI and what the rash may look like.

    Here is an image of the male and female Lone Star ticks courtesy of The Florida Department of Health.

    3. The American Dog Tick: The American dog tick, also called a wood tick, is reddish brown with silver colored spots or lines on their backs. This is the tick which can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever may include fever, chills, severe headache, muscle pain, and mental confusion. Another symptom can be a rash which first appears on wrists and ankles and spreads to most of the body, and begins a few days after the fever starts. It is reported that up to 20% of people do not get a rash.


    Please visit Health Central’s information page about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to read more details about symptoms and treatment.

    Here is an image of what the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever rash can look like  And here is another image of how the rash looks on a patient’s foot.


    This is what the female and male wood tick looks like courtesy of Health Central. To get an even better idea of what these ticks look like during their different growth stages as well as their size, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a scaled photo of all three types of ticks compared to the size of a dime.

    Are you feeling itchy after reading this? I know I am. In my next post we will discuss ways to prevent getting bitten by ticks in the first place and also what to do if you are bitten by a tick. As lovely as spring can be, it brings many things to life which can make us itch. We hope to get you through this season itch free!

Published On: March 31, 2010